Beethoven’s Scandinavian sandwich

John Storgards,  principal guest conductor of the BBC Philharmonic
John Storgards, principal guest conductor of the BBC Philharmonic

AT the same time as the opening strains of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik are heard at Ecclesall this Saturday, Martin Roscoe and the BBC Philharmonic will be five minutes or so into Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto at the City Hall.

The popular concerto is in a Scandinavian sandwich of first Grieg’s Lyric Suite and Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony which follows it, and a there is a Nordic conductor to boot, John Storgards, a violinist before turning to conducting. He still tunes his fiddle every so often and was installed as principal guest conductor of the BBC Phil in January this year in succession to Vassily Sinaisky, a well known visitor with the orchestra to Sheffield now music director at the Bolshoi.

Storgards’ conducting activity began in earnest in 1996 – the year Sinaisky originally took up the BBC post – when he became artistic director of the most northerly professional orchestra in Europe, the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland.

Although his career now extends far and wide internationally in a guest-conducting capacity, he remains highly active in his native Finland.

He is still artistic director of the Lapland orchestra, conducting it regularly, and after a five-year stint as principal guest conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, was appointed its chief conductor in 2008 on a four-year contract, since extended to 2014.

Written three years after the end of the First World War, Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony, one of the two of his six symphonies he didn’t give a title, was almost certainly penned in response to it, although the Danish composer denied that it was.

Conflict is in evidence virtually throughout the two movements (divided into sections) of the work, unmistakably in the first as a snare drum and clarinet do battle, while in the second attempts at lyrical stability become increasingly frantic as obstacles try to disrupt it.